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Social Media For Grownups

Every company needs a social networking policy, but don’t stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality.

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It's hard to believe just how recently social networking has come into the business lexicon. Think back three or four years: Was Twitter part of your marketing plan? Did Facebook or Facebook-like functionality play any role in your customer service initiatives? Were you thinking about implementing systems like Yammer or Jive or Chatter to develop more effective collaboration among your employees?

For many organizations, social networking tools and processes have evolved from small, often grassroots efforts put forth by an evangelical few to initiatives that touch every part of the organization. Along the way, companies have realized--sometimes after getting burned--that they need to put some kind of governance in place to ensure that all of their social activity is in keeping with business goals, customer expectations, and specific industry regulations and concerns.

InformationWeek's 2012 Social Networking in the Enterprise Survey found that 51% of respondents' organizations have an official presence on Facebook, 41% are on Twitter, and 35% are on LinkedIn. When asked which specific internal social networking systems had been running for three years or more, 46% of respondents said online company directories with profiles and photos, 29% said team or company wikis, 23% said company discussion forums, and 15% said internal blogs.

While modern social networking has provided new ways of collaborating and communicating, it has also introduced some new and often challenging problems. Consider this sampling of social media missteps: An outside social media rep for Chrysler dropped the F-bomb on the car company's Twitter account. Designer Kenneth Cole used Twitter to capitalize on the Arab Spring for his spring collection. Anthony Weiner, at the time a member of Congress, exposed his private parts. And after pulling its ads from a reality television show about a Muslim family, Lowe's made matters worse by not responding to thousands of comments (many of them racially charged) left on its Facebook page.

Many companies just starting external social media initiatives are finding "unauthorized" Facebook and Twitter accounts already created in their names by employees. InformationWeek's survey found that 15% of respondents' organizations had some form of unauthorized Facebook presence; 12% on Twitter and 27% on LinkedIn. These accounts may have been set up with good intentions, but the information being disseminated on them may not be in line with company goals and standards.

As some of the earlier examples show, companies have felt the ill effects of employees posting inaccurate, profane, or otherwise inappropriate material on authorized accounts, and still others have had their social reputations tarnished by deleting customer comments and complaints instead of responding to them.

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